United Way of Bergen County distributed 1.5 million masks to help protect people with developmental disabilities from COVID-19 in just two hours on Thursday.
Vans, cars and trucks lined up outside a Secaucus warehouse where the masks donated by Healing Hands Scrubs had been stored, said Tom Toronto.
The speed at which the personal protective equipment was distributed shows just how necessary it still is, Toronto said.
“The need is still there. The rollout of the vaccine is going to take a while,” said Toronto. “Witnessing the sheer volume of the people who came today, they are desperate for PPE. It is still needed by the residents and it is still needed by the service staff. The need right now for PPE is unabated.”
The 300,000 disposable medical masks, 1,440,000 three-ply masks, 36,000 face shields and 46,080 N95 masks are now making their way around the state to be distributed among the companies that run homes and programs for the medically fragile community.
Healing Hands in East Rutherford read a NorthJersey story that addressed the shortage of PPE in group homes among the residents and the staff and reached out to make a donation, Toronto said. The donation is worth $344,000, said Healing Hands Scrubs.
Toronto then offered the masks to the state’s trade associations, including Arc of New Jersey, ABCD New Jersey and New Jersey Association of Community Providers.
“United Way is a lifesaver. We picked it up and now we are going to get it to our 20 local chapters,” said Thomas Baffuto, executive director of the Arc of New Jersey, the state’s largest organization that advocates for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families.
United Way of Bergen County has helped distribute about 3 million PPE since the start of the pandemic to people with developmental disabilities, a community that has been sounding an alarm for help since March only to be told by the state they were on their own when it came to the gear.
They sheltered in place as PPE from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ stockpile went to hospitals and a few nursing homes and bypassed thousands of the state’s group home residents with disabilities who face higher risks from contracting the coronavirus.
“Mounting evidence” finds people with developmental disabilities “who contract the virus are significantly more likely to die from it,” stated a report published by the American Network of Community Options and Resources, a national nonprofit focused on disability issues.
It’s a population that is still awaiting the large-scale vaccination promised to them with the state’s Phase 1A priority designation. Vaccination sites opened to residents with 1B and 1C phase designations this week regardless.
Anyone still looking for PPE is encouraged to reach out to Toronto, who added that he’s also trying to notify other disability communities outside of the group home networks.
Healing Hands Scrubs has donated $490,000 of PPE to United Way since the beginning of the pandemic said company founder Bansi Lkhani.
Gene Myers is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: United Way hands out 1.5 million masks to NJ group home residents with disabilities